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Solano County Office of Education

Solano County Office of Education

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures

Turkey vultures can often be seen soaring in the skies across Solano County. These birds ride thermals in the air to glide in circles searching for food. 

Role in the Ecosystem

Turkey vultures are scavengers, eating carrion, or dead carcasses of other animals. They use their keen sense of smell to find their food. This is an important role in the ecosystem, removing dead animals that may otherwise spread disease. 
turkey vulture eating carrion


Turkey vultures in Solano County (and some southern states) are year-round residents. Birds in the northeast migrate short distances southward. Some western birds migrate much farther, with large numbers (more than a million) migrating into Central America.
Turkey Vulture Range map


turkey vulture soaring
Turkey vulture adults have large, long wings with blackish brown feathers along the body and shoulders that contrast with gray flight feathers. Turkey vultures usually soar in circles with very little wing movement. Their wings make a slight V shape while soaring.
Turkey vultures have bald red heads with pale colored legs and bill. The lack of feathers helps prevent bits of carrion (dead meat) from adhering to them as it would to feathers. At close range the naked red heads of the adult turkey vultures resemble those of turkeys, hence the name.
turkey vulture standing

Nesting Habits

Turkey vultures have been known to nest in rock crevices, caves, ledges, burrows, hollow logs, fallen trees, and abandoned nests. While they often feed near humans, turkey vultures prefer to nest far away from civilization. Once found, many of these nest sites may be used repeatedly for a decade or more.


Turkey vultures often roost in groups at night in trees, on power poles or similar structures. They can be seen circling in as a group before settling in for the night to roost.

Unique Sense of Smell

Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell. They have been known to be able to smell carrion from over a mile away, which is very unique in the bird world. The turkey vulture has the largest olfactory (smelling) system of all birds.


  • The turkey vulture is related to the stork, not to any birds of prey.
  • Researchers have determined that turkey vultures can travel at up to 200 miles in a day.
  • Their scientific name in Latin means “cleansing breeze".


According to the Cornell Lab, the oldest recorded turkey vulture was at least 16 years, 10 months old when it was found in Ohio, the same state where it had been banded.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Audubon Birds of California
Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab
BirdNET - Bird call identification
BirdNet App preview